Four-wheel drive is a necessity for anyone who aspires to leave the world behind. Whether you’re hunting, heading up to the cabin, or merely exploring some unbeaten path that strikes your fancy, getting power to all four wheels makes your journey that much easier.
But if your automotive proclivities also happen to be a little off the beaten path, you don’t just want a pickup or an SUV. You want a Mitsubishi Delica, the Japanese domestic market (JDM) van that aptly slots into the niche created Volkswagen first created with the bus and its eventual Westfalia Synchro 4WD variants.
Over the last 15 years, the Delica has developed a real cult status in Canada—particularly in British Columbia. There’s good reason. First, Vancouver is home to one of the busiest ports in the world, which effectively makes it a hop, skip, and very long jump from Japan. Naturally, most Delicas live there. More importantly, Japan’s strict and frequent safety and emissions inspections can make owning an older car an expensive proposition. Factor in the Japanese cultural tendency to prefer newer cars to old, and many owners of aging Delicas tend to not want them around any longer. So on the boat they go.
The name itself, “Delica,” is a portmanteau that blends “delivery” and “car.” This speaks to the original Delica’s intentions. Introduced with a 1.1-liter engine in 1968 as a light cabover pickup with a payload of just over 1,300 pounds, it was the ideal commercial vehicle for business owners making deliveries. The forward-control van came a year later, in both a cargo version and as a nine-passenger variant. The original Delica soldiered on until the second-generation debuted in 1979.
In October 1982, Mitsubishi equipped its narrow, boxy van with four-wheel drive. Nomads the world over have rejoiced ever since. Those early 4x4s ride on a modified Pajero SUV chassis, so the underpinnings were (and still are) up to the task. They also came with a bigger selection of four-cylinder engines, including gasoline units from 1.4 to 2.0 liters, and three diesels of 2.0, 2.3, and 2.5 liters.
It is with the 1986 redesign, the Delica’s “soft cube” third generation known as the Star Wagon, that Canadian nomads in particular seem to get most excited. Since the early 2000s, adventurous enthusiasts have been able to import them. Karim Quraishi operates Silk Road Autos in Surrey, B.C. He’s been bringing Delicas into the country since 2005, selling them mostly to folks in western Canada, but also all over North America and as far south as Mexico.
“People love them because they are multifunctional,” he says. “It’s a van, a grocery-getter, and perfect for a large family. But it’s also a true 4x4 with high and low range, to take hunting or into the mountains.”
Delicas do require a few things to make them road-compliant, like a good fiddling with the headlights. That’s because they arrive aligned for use on the opposite side of the road, which means they tend to blind oncoming traffic on our roads. It’s an easy fix. That they are right-hand drive seems to be a bigger factor. Some provinces, like Quebec and Prince Edward Island, make registering RHD vehicles like the Delica quite difficult, so it’s best to check local laws if you’re in the market. And while there has been some outcry on the safety of driving a right-hand-drive vehicle on Canadian roads, with plenty of insurance studies cited and concerned officials quoted, much of the data seems to be skewed by another segment of JDM imports—the Skyline GT-Rs and Celica GT-Fours of the world. These cars, and their often irresponsible drivers, are a far cry from the tall, skinny Star Wagon.
But don’t let those looks fool you. They may appear top-heavy, but they still ride on stout Pajero architecture, which puts most of their mass down low. And it puts the driver up high, so front visibility is exceptional.
1969 Mitsubishi Delica Van
If you’re in the market for your own Delica, there are plenty of resources. The best place to start is in the forums at delica.ca, where you’ll find plenty of knowledgeable, enthusiastic folks happy to help you on your way to Star Wagon bliss.